MedSpring Viewpoints

Ice or Heat? What to Use When

Dance-off gone wrong? Injured in a ninja fight?

Now that you have a twisted ankle, the important question is – should I apply ice or heat to it?

It’s possible that making the wrong choice can make your injury worse. Use the guide to clarify what to use and when.
Ice cube.

A good rule to follow is this: if it’s a recent injury, apply ice; but if it’s been bothering you for a while (generally over 6 weeks), use heat.

If you’re unsure which is best, ice will be the safest since heat can cause more damage if used incorrectly. If you’re still uneasy, get your injury evaluated by a healthcare professional. Everyone responds differently to different injuries, and a qualified provider will be able to steer you in the right direction.

 

In the meantime, we’ve put together some general guidelines on when to use ice or heat.

WHEN TO USE ICE:

Use ice on an injury that is new or occurred within the last 72 hours. For best results use ice as soon as possible to help dull the pain and prevent additional swelling.

Apply ice for:

  • Muscle or joint sprains (i.e. ankle, knee, wrist)
    For example, the time you tripped over a rogue chair that jumped out in front of you and caused you to land on your wrist.
  • Red, hot or swollen body part
    When your niece mistakes your shin for a soccer ball.
  • Immediate pain following an intense workout
    You really should stop challenging people to foot races.

Main reasons to use ice:R-I-C-E_Graphic-3

  • Numbs pain
  • Subsides swelling and bruising

Immediately following an injury, your doctor will often recommend that you follow the RICE acronym: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. By following these rules, you’ll hopefully keep the damage to a minimum.

 

WHEN TO USE HEAT:

Heat should be applied when you have pain that is ongoing or when you have muscle spasms.

Use heat for:

  • Muscle pain/soreness or cramps
    For example, those back-aches that make you feel older than you actually are. Getting out of bed in the mornings is now difficult for more reasons than it used to be.
  • Stiff joints/arthritis
    Although you insisted you didn’t need a chair in the meeting, your knees think otherwise, and it doesn’t look like you will be partaking in that free food that just made an appearance on the conference table after all.
  • Old/reoccurring injuries
    Turns out fame and the MLB wasn’t for you, and your shoulder reminds you of that all the time.

Reasons to use heat:flame

  • Stimulate circulation
  • Increase tissue elasticity
  • Relax muscles

A word of caution, using heat can increase inflammation and delay healing. So be sure your injury is no longer swollen before you slap on the heating pad, and avoid applying heat immediately after activities where you are exerting your muscles.

Both heat and ice sessions should be limited to 20 minutes. We’re assuming you don’t want to end up with a burn or tissue damage on top of your current injury. One injury is enough.

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